Perth Thunder held their inaugural Teddy Bear Toss night in the AIHL to great success. (Photo: Ashley Hayes; Design: Will Cuckson)

There are two months remaining in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) with teams either battling to hold their positions at the top or looking to chase down the leading pack.

We had the old guard still putting on a show, a goalie whose numbers don’t tell the full story, a young star heating up, great causes for charity and more.

The Inner Sanctum is back for another week of five things.

Andrew Masters blocking a shot on goal as the Central Coast Rhinos took on the Melbourne Mustangs. (Photo: Phil Taylor Photographic)

A Master of his trade

It’s been marked improvement for the Central Coast Rhinos in recent weeks and much of that has come from import goaltender Andrew Masters.

The Canadian stopper has been brilliant since arriving in the AIHL which was highlighted in the Rhinos’ recent away trip to Melbourne where they would take on the Ice and Mustangs.

Statistics might paint a different picture for the casual hockey observer, however, when you get to see Masters in action you get a better understanding of how good he is between the pipes.

Masters – who has a .873 save percentage from 12 games, stood on his head against the Mustangs nearly stealing an unlikely victory for the Rhinos and that’s enough to make my five things this week.

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Turning back the clock

It was the game I was most looking forward to across the weekend’s action when the Brisbane Lightning welcomed the Sydney Bears to Iceworld Boondall.

The Bears would win a tough tight game 4-2, in a contest that was on a knife’s edge with plenty of exciting moments throughout as both teams battled hard.

One of those was the battle of the old guard, Tomas Landa (39) and Steve Harris (45), with 84 years of age between them it put a smile on my face that the AIHL can still provide these moments.

Landa scored one goal on the night, but Harris held his own blanking the Bears veteran on a one-on-one chance.

With imports dominating a lot of the headlines the battle of two veteran stars was a highlight for me.

A teddy bear heads for the ice during the Melbourne Ice’s annual Teddy Bear Toss event. (Photo: Matt Hartigan)

Teddies for the ready

There are so many great initiatives each season and the recent Teddy Bear Toss events held by the Melbourne Ice and Perth Thunder are another terrific example of that.

An annual event for the Ice who support the Alannah and Madeline Foundation each season, raising important funds to support child safety initiatives.

It was the first time the Thunder had held this event supporting Wheelchairs for Kids, with each child receiving a wheelchair also taking home a new furry friend.

More teams in the AIHL supporting charities or promoting inclusion across all areas of the sport is terrific for ice hockey in Australia.

Dmitri Kuleshov has been on a heater recently for the Sydney Ice Dogs. (Photo: Frank Kutsche)

The kid is heating up

I am big on young Australian talent getting opportunities in the AIHL and there aren’t many more exciting prospects than Dmitri Kuleshov.

Kuleshov was my pick for Rookie of the Year, and against the Adelaide Adrenaline on home ice, he continued his recent points streak with two goals to help guide the Sydney Ice Dogs to a 5-2 win.

Over the past five games Kuleshov has picked up 11 points (seven goals, four assists) as his season trajectory continues to trend upwards.

Kuleshov is finding his feet at AIHL level and will only continue to get better, which is exciting for Ice Dogs fans and scary for the rest of the competition.

Let’s talk about it

Keeping the Ice Dogs theme going it was another fantastic initiative in Sydney with $8,787 raised for Black Dog Month with money going to mental health research in support of the Black Dog Institute.

The Ice Dogs are no strangers when it comes to special themed nights, holding several each season supporting charities and organisations with raffles, money raising, and specially designed jerseys that get auctioned off.

With so much happening on the ice each week in the AIHL, we can’t look past all the off-ice work clubs like the Ice Dogs continue to do in this space.

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